author: David Brancaleone
byline:David Brancaleone is an art historian who teaches Art Theory at Limerick School of Art and Design.
venue:Various locations, Cork city
dates:July 2009

Tom Fitzgerald: from Gaza paradiso, 2009; courtesy the artist
caption:Tom Fitzgerald: from Gaza paradiso, 2009; courtesy the artist

Cork’s new summer arts meta-festival is The Avant. I asked Trevor Joyce, poet and SoundEye founder, if it follows on from the 2005 Cork Caucus. “Yes. Fergal Gaynor and Dobz O’Brien drew together very varied audiences in a year of reading groups, lectures and discussions in which a new, hybrid group of artists, writers and thinkers was brought into existence, hence this new phenomenon, The Avant.” Gaynor’s idea was simple: why not broaden cultural activity in Ireland and show well-established and new experimental work in film, poetry, sound art and visual art in a single festival?

Sure enough, the meta-festival challenged the barriers between word and image; for example, the third edition of Sonic vigil, curated by The Quiet Club and Gruenrekorder and performed in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, also came under the Avant umbrella. Sonic vigil hosted some of the foremost sound artists active on the scene who came together in Ireland’s first Field recording festival, contributing to giving The Avant international breadth. The event also included American poet, translator and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg performing “total translations” of Native American ritual texts.

Retorika Quartet with soprano Camilla Griehsel performing music from the early baroque period; photo Trevor Joyce; courtesy The Avant
caption:Retorika Quartet with soprano Camilla Griehsel performing music from the early baroque period; photo Trevor Joyce; courtesy The Avant

The opening act in the SoundEye cabaret night in the Other Place was the Retorika Quartet with soprano Camilla Griehsel, performing music from the early Baroque period, with a contemporary setting of a poem by the Earl of Essex addressed to Elizabeth I. The consensus appeared to be that the strongest ever session at any SoundEye was Tom Raworth (Raworth has published over forty books of prose), reading with Peter Manson and Maggie O’Sullivan. Sound cast brought together sound improvisers David Stalling, Anthony Kelly, Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea, performing in the Crawford Gallery for four hours.

Then there was Tom Fitzgerald’s exhibition in the Black Mariah, films in the National Sculpture Factory’s Films in the mezz, eye and mind’s 24/ 7 in the Glucksman, and readings in the Firkin Crane and the Cous cous in Meade’s Wine Bar (a pre-booked poetry reading with an international line-up, loads of energy in a room absolutely packed with people – real standing-room only. Ed Krcma of UCC and architect of Eye and mind sees this as a cipher of the new cultural space and sense of a critical mass building in Cork.

For The Avant, the Cork Film Centre screened a programme of Spanish avant-garde films and video, Cianoramic profanations, a rare chance to see an extraordinary series of experimental films, in association with the Márgenes festival (Madrid/ Dublin). For years, Maximilian Le Cain has been working to change the fact that “the general visibility and appreciation of experimental cinema in Ireland can often seem comparatively close to nil.”1 Well, he selected and expertly presented films which attracted a good crowd and a long discussion, featuring three of Spain’s most exciting contemporary moving-image artists: Oriol Sánchez, Esperanza Collado and Albert Alcoz. To put this in context, the Cork screening was a sequel to Different directions, Ireland’s only festival solely dedicated to experimental film, which took place for the first time last December in Galway.

Tom Fitzgerald’s Gaza paradiso, shown at the Black Mariah gallery, associated traces of Renaissance drawings of Dante’s Paradise with fragments of text from press reports of the 2009 bombing of the Gaza Strip, showing the West’s failure: the Real (the evidence of documentary text) confronted with the exhausted Ideal of (selective) justice (affirmative humanist images also inscribed on shards of industrial-era plastic).

Eye and mind, an interdisciplinary research forum that began in January, persuaded its academics, artists, and curators to experiment with seven minute lectures. The format worked and numbers swelled, with quite a range of contributions. What was especially interesting about Ciara Moore’s silent Powerpoint, with rolling words next to the saturated colours of exotic little shiny insects and much else, was the debate provoked by her silence: a poet raised questions of self-expression, dyslexia, choices and what is lost (in terms of content) in denying one’s voice. We all took sides, of course.

Then there was Rachel Warriner and Jimmy Cummins’s double-act spoof, complete with slide-show and commentary, an amusing poke in the ribs at academic rigour. Chris Clarke’s lecture about soft and not so soft capitalism on the net probed online aesthetics for a false sense of freedom, introducing the audience to the work of Lev Manovich.2 Is this really such a ‘free’ network of subjective trajectories or a controlled system? Take the Google paradox: what seems completely open, remembers where you go, suggests where you should go and produces commercially dictated hierarchies (ranking sites), disguising its economics while implying Deleuzian ‘nomadic’ relativism. Ed Krcma translated claims for aesthetic value in modern and contemporary art into a thought-provoking application of cognitive mapping, scotching facile categorizations, and inviting us to think of overlaps and functions, rather than monolithic identities. Claire Feeley presented typical early commercial representations of radio, in terms of public-sphere theory – the dream come true: H G Wells’s dystopian State in When the sleeper wakes (1899), where ‘Babble Machines’ blab news and propaganda from street corners and private spaces, later echoed by the recurring period picture of the radio antenna towering over the city- scape invoking uniformity: demotic or despotic? I enjoyed the challenge of compressing ideas and logic into just seven minutes, a balancing act between clowning and making a serious point, in my presentation about the 2009 Venice Biennale and Daniel Birnbaum’s theme Making worlds in relation to Alain Badious philosophy that configures multiplicity into situations and logics of worlds with a way forward.3

The last word to Trevor Joyce: “This was the first year of The Avant and it certainly met all my hopes for an initial try-out: we had events in all the major art disciplines. We now have a robust, resilient and very flexible infrastructure of a sort which I suspect is unique in contemporary Irish culture, and I expect will serve us very well as we continue to develop in unexpected directions over the next few years.”

1 Maximilian Le Cain, ‘Different directions’, in Experimental conversations, No 3, Spring 2009, at articles/185/different-directions/, accessed 24 July 2009
2 For more on Lev Manovich see
3 For an extended account, see David Brancaleone, ‘Alain Badiou, multiplicity and contemporary art’, in StimulusRespond, Numbers Issue, Summer 2009;